Covid-19 Impact: Reopening Coronavirus Stressed Kenyan Economy

Assessments so far based on limited data but likelihood of potential further spread high, health body says

“I’m looking for a job, this fish one, is barely sustainable, especially with these new Covid -19 directives. I’m not closing the fish one though, I need another one to supplement. Lakini (but) getting another is the problem since I started this fish business out of joblessness,” Wanjiru wa Doroo, a Kenyan fish monger shares her story on Twitter.

Wanjiru’s hope to get another job is just one of the effects of  Covid-19 hitting the lower strata of society and daily wage workers who continue to face the greatest impact due to reduced household income.

The first case of COVID-19 in Kenya was reported on March 13, 2020, when a 27-year-old lady, who had travelled from Ohio, Chicago, London en route to Kenya on March 5 contracted it.

Even before the second Covid-19 wave hit Kenya in October, 1.7 million jobs had been impacted. The first three months. The job losses were a result of the closure of all restaurants, bars and hotels nationwide along with other non-essential stores.

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Consequently, the majority had barely managed to recover from the adverse economic effects of the nationwide lockdown to control the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic to date.

The World Bank said the effects of COVID 19 risk pushing people deeper into poverty, mental health and depression. 

According to the World Bank in November 2020, “Kenya’s economic outlook remains highly uncertain, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to unfold in the country, and globally.” 

“It is critical to ensure continued support to vulnerable households while safeguarding human capital through expanded access to digital technology, combined with better access to information to mitigate usage of negative coping strategies (i.e. asset liquidation) and combat food insecurity while offsetting the increase in poverty,” it noted.

On the other hand, GeoPoll’s May pan-African poll, 79 per cent of Kenyans reported that their incomes had declined since January 2021. 

“When we see the trend in Kenya of deteriorating incomes in the three months leading up to each of our four polls during the pandemic, it becomes clear that Kenyans are experiencing progressive financial pressure, which is getting worse as the pandemic is prolonged,” said John Paul Murunga, GeoPoll Regional Director – East Africa.

As a result, the government announced various measures to cushion Kenyans and businesses such as tax breaks, employment support, and loan deferment.

However, the measures ended in January 2021.

“In Spite of these interventions, a lot remains to be done in order to deal with the challenges of unemployment among our youth as well as high poverty and income inequality levels that have been aggravated by the COVID-19 Pandemic,” Treasury Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yattani said when he tabled  KSh3.6 trillion budget for the fiscal year 2021/22.

This is because navigating the response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been a difficult balancing act between protecting public health and the economy.

For instance, the government says the plight of the vulnerable in society, particularly the emerging urban vulnerable, remains a key concern.

“The COVID-19 Pandemic has triggered one of the worst health and economic crisis of our time,” Yattani emphasised.

Kenya’s economy contracted by 0.6 per cent from 5.4 per cent in 2019. marking its worst performance. This was attributed to the pandemic coupled with the invasion of desert locusts that damaged crops, and floods that caused loss of lives and livelihoods, displacement of people and destruction of infrastructure.

With projections that economic growth is expected to rebound to 6.6 per cent in 2021, challenges remain.

One, new containment measures, in the counties of Busia, Vihiga, Kisii, Nyamira, Kakamega, Kericho, Bomet, Bungoma, Trans-Nzoia, Kisumu, Siaya, Homa-Bay and Migori, could affect agricultural supply chains, which would have a bearing on the rural economy.

Two, Kenya’s COVID-19 vaccination strategy continues to face headwinds. Vaccination is a crucial step to recovering all from COVID because no one is safe until everyone is safe according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Access to sufficient doses and vaccine hesitancy among the target groups remain a concern.

According to the Ministry of Health, 1,164,161 vaccines have so far been administered across the country as of June 17. Of these, the total first doses are 992,418 while the second doses are 171,743.

“The uptake of the second dose among those who received their first dose is at 17.3% with the majority being males at 56.4% while females are at 43.6% Proportion of adults fully vaccinated is less than 1%.

The uptake of the second dose by Priority Groups is as follows: Health Workers 48,033, Aged 58 years and above 47,177, Others 45,043, Teachers 19,479 while Security Officers are at 12,011,” the ministry said.

On the other hand, it has acknowledged the challenge of access but did not indicate when exactly the second dose will be available.

“As was the case with the first dose, doctors and other health workers will be given priority. In the meantime, the Ministry wishes to request doctors, other health workers and those Kenyans due for the second dose to be patient,” the ministry stated.

Catherine Kyobutungi, Executive Director, African Population and Health Research Center says Kenya needs to develop a comprehensive framework for engaging with the private sector ‘to narrow the gap between what it has and what it needs.’

“Kenya must strengthen its ability to conduct its own reviews of available vaccines. This would reduce the turnaround time for approval and registration,” APHRC adds.   

Indeed,  the Covid-19 pandemic has not only hit physical health and the economy but has also impacted recovery efforts due to the emergence of new COVID-19 variants and reinstatement of containment measures with low vaccination uptake.

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